Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–June 24, 2014.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Just a couple — hello, Nancy. Just a — you made me lose my composure already. Just a couple quick announcements, first on Iraq. In keeping with the direction of the commander-in-chief, I can announce today that we have begun to deploy initial assessment teams, two special operations teams with approximately 40 personnel previously assigned to the embassy through the Office of Security Cooperation have started their new mission.
In addition, approximately 90 additional troops assigned to help stand up the Baghdad joint operations center have arrived on station in Baghdad. Within the next few days, these troops will be joined by four additional teams of approximately 50 people total who will deploy to Iraq from within the Central Command region. These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces, higher headquarters in Baghdad, and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisers.
The teams will begin their assessments immediately and provide their findings through the chain of command within the next two to three weeks. Now, we continue to fly routine and regular ISR missions over Iraq to the tune of about 30 to 35 flights per day to help us gain better insight about the security situation on the ground. This continued effort will no doubt aid our assessment teams as they begin their important work.
Second, as you may have seen, Secretary Hagel was pleased today to be able to announce that the president has nominated Admiral Bill Gortney to be the next commander of Northern Command and NORAD, that Army General John Campbell has been nominated to succeed General Dunford as the ISAF commander in Kabul, and that Army Lieutenant General Joseph Votel, currently commander of Joint Special Operations Command, has been nominated for a fourth star and to serve as the next commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
As the secretary noted, all three officers are highly qualified for these positions, having proven their leadership through exemplary and dedicated service to the country. If confirmed, these officers will continue that service at the highest levels of our military, and the secretary looks forward to benefiting from their experience and their leadership.
Now, while I’m on the topic of senior leaders in the department, I wanted to also let you know that Secretary Hagel will on Thursday meet with all of his combatant commanders, service secretaries, and service chiefs for a previously scheduled senior leadership council meeting. High on the agenda will, of course, be current events around the world, but they are also expected to discuss our global force posture going forward, budget issues, innovation concepts, and better business practices.
As always, the secretary appreciates these opportunities to hear from a senior leadership team and to discuss with them the issues that most affect and are affected by the pace of military engagement around the world.
Finally, the secretary will be meeting this afternoon with his Norwegian counterpart. They are expected to discuss events in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Rim of the Pacific exercise, in which a Norwegian frigate will participate, and Norway’s critical assistance in helping remove chemical stockpiles from Syria. I’ll issue a short readout after that meeting, which will be late this afternoon, probably about 6 o’clock.
Q: John (OFF-MIC) the advisers teams.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. So two special operations teams of 40 personnel — these were folks that were previously assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation and, therefore, already working out of the embassy will now have started today to begin work as assessment teams. So that’s…
Q: Forty total?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Forty total, two teams. Then in addition to that, Central Command has flowed in an additional 90 personnel who will be working in Baghdad to set up the Baghdad Joint Operations Center. And within the next few days, those troops will be joined by an additional four teams totaling approximately 50 people, so four teams but 50 people, and they’ll come to — they’ll come to Iraq from elsewhere within the Central Command region. They will be that — they will be compromising another four assessment teams.
And as we’ve talked about before, I mean, there are sort of phases here. The first phase is assessment, standing up the joint operations center is a key part of that. And then one of the things the assessment teams will do is help us figure out the proper flow, efficient flow of follow-on adviser teams, how many, where should they be, that kind of thing. We’re still in phase on right now.
Q: So are those — those 90, those aren’t special operations types? Those are technicians who are setting up the joint operations…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’re not all special operations personnel, no. Some are, but not all.
Q: (OFF-MIC) technicians in there (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think there’s — you know, as you would expect in any joint operations center, you need a mix of people. You need intelligence analysts. You need logistic experts. You need some IT support. You need some basic, you know, line personnel. And, of course, there are some — you know, there are some special operators, as well. It’s a mix, and it’s a joint — I want to say also that all of these troops that we’re talking about represent all the services. It’s a joint mission. Everybody — everybody is pitching in here.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Go ahead.
Q: (OFF-MIC) so you got two teams, 40 people, and then the follow-on teams, you got four, approximately 50. That’s four approximately 50 is the normal size of a 12-man…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. That’s right.
Q: So why — why are these two first teams (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to Central Command for how they decided to stand up these first two teams, so I don’t want to — I don’t want to speculate. But they believe that two teams of 40, so 20 people per team roughly is about the right size for this initial — these initial two teams, these first two teams. But, again, I’d point you to Central Command for exactly how they decided to staff it.
Q: … and this focus is on the JOC in Baghdad and they’ll determine later whether to set one up in the north? Is that right?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the — there’s already a tasking to set up a northern joint operations center, but there’s a lot more details that still have to come on that. So right now, these 90 that I talked about will be going to Baghdad to work on the Baghdad joint operations center, and then we’ll make decisions, follow-on decisions about the second joint operations center in northern Iraq at a later date.
Q: Are they already in country?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I said, you have the two teams of 40, the additional 90 personnel that are going to help stand up the joint operations center, they are all in Baghdad right now. So 130 are in Baghdad. Some of them were already there, right, the 40. The only — the only new number for presence in Iraq right now is the 90 that I talked about.
Q: (OFF-MIC) four phases. What are the final (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn’t say four phases. I said it’s a multi-phase effort. Right now, we’re sort of in the assessment phase, and — and standing up the joint operations center is a key part of that. Eventually we’ll move to, you know, a more active advise and assist phase, but, again, we just got to get — we got to get these folks and these teams stood up, get a sense of what the situation on the ground is, and then we can make some follow-on decisions from there.
Q: So the total is now 260? You said the 90 are — was the new number. There were 170 initially.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, so…
Q: … 260.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have — so — yes, we had — so we had — you had roughly — you had less than 200 — let’s back up and we’ll do the math.
Q: The (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: So, originally, originally in the — in the Office of Security Cooperation, we had less than 200, and I don’t know the exact number, all right? We added to that two weekends ago — right, we added another 170 for security assistance, right? And so that took us to about, I think, 360, something like that, 360, something — 370, something like that, and then — now we’ve added today — we’ve added another 130. So I can’t give you an exact nose count. I can forward you to Central Command for that.
Q: … number of 300, where are we in terms of up to 300?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.
Q: That number (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the 300, right, we are — you are at 130 right now. You’ve got the — you’ve got the two teams of 40, and you’ve got the 90 additional to stand up the joint operations center. Of the — of the up to 300 that the president announced, we are now at 130. Does that answer your question? Sorry, I didn’t understand that you were referring to the 300, so my bad there.
Q: (OFF-MIC) hard to say you added 130, but…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: One hundred and thirty today.
Q: (OFF-MIC) but 40 of those were already (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Forty were already there. You’re right.
Q: You added 90 today, right?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’re right. My bad.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: All right, guys. I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. After this is over, we’ll get you a sheet that breaks it all down. But the…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I can’t do that. And I’m not going to do any more math from up here, because I get it wrong every time. But the key number to remember today is we got two teams of 40 that were already there and are now doing the assessment work and they have another 90 that came in that are going to help us stand up the joint operations center. Let’s not lose sight of the job and the mission.
Q: (OFF-MIC) added 90 today?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Ninety additional personnel flowed into Iraq today…
Q: Good, Okay.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: … from outside Iraq…
Q: Thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This isn’t a math question. (Laughter.)
Q: No numbers. The Baghdad joint operations center, if — correct if I’m wrong, this is a new command, joint command between the Iraqi forces and the U.S. military personnel?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It is — it will — it is intended to be a new joint operations center, one of the two that the president announced that we would help stand up, yes.
Q: (OFF-MIC) going to be at the U.S. embassy in…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have the exact location. I think that’s one of the things that they’re going to be working out here, because it’s meant to be — it’s meant to be a joint operations center. I don’t think that that will be at the embassy, because it’s going — it’s meant to be manned by Iraqi security forces and headquarters elements from the Iraqi army, as well.
Q: In regards to the ISR missions, you said 30 to 35 sorties per day?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right, that’s about the average that we have done since last week.
Q: (OFF-MIC) where they’re flying over northern part of Iraq? Are they flying over the borders with Syria? What kind of aircraft?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It varies — it varies from day to day, Joe. It’s a dynamic, fluid situation on the ground, so I can’t give you — I can’t point you on a map and tell you exactly where it is. On every given day, it changes. They — we fly over the areas that we want to gain the most insight from.
Q: Last question. Are you sharing this information with the Iraqis…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are — we are sharing what we can with the Iraqi security forces. I mean, it’s — and I would remind you, of course, that we’ve been doing that for quite some time. At the request of the Iraqi government, several months ago, we started increasing — slightly increasing our ISR support. In the last couple of weeks, when the situation took the turn that it did, we intensified that, and now we’re at this sort of consistent level, 30 to 35 a day, and, yes, of course, we’re sharing what we can with the Iraqi security forces.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: These flights are over Iraq. These flights are over Iraq. Yes? Yeah, go ahead.
Q: Admiral, can you tell us more about the time scale here? Do you have a goal for when the balance of these 300 special operators will get there? How much time will these teams have to do their assessment work that you described? And do you have a goal for when the Iraqis ultimately could begin to turn the tide against ISIS?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On — on the assessment work, as I said at the — in my opening, they’ll have — we expect that they’ll start to flow their assessments up through the chain of command in about two to three weeks. So we’ll look for — we’ll look for initial assessments from them in that timeframe.
And then on — on, you know, your question on how soon can the Iraqis turn the tide, I mean, look, the — our job is predominantly to assess three things, the state, the cohesiveness and the readiness of the ISF, the state of the situation on the ground and ISIL’s activities, and then third is — and this is a key part of it, and I mentioned it at the outset, is to give the chain of command some advice and recommendations about how to further on the rest of the advisory mission.
I want to say it again. The president said up to 300. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be 300. That’s one of these — that’s one of the things that these assessment teams are going to help us figure out is, how many advisory teams do we need? Where do we need to place them? You know, what sort of functions do we want them to do? And how do we man those teams with how many people?
So we still have a lot of work to do here. This is just the first day of the establishment of these assessment teams. We need to let them get to work and start helping us inform our own decisions.
Q: But that could mean that effectively when you’re talking about several weeks more of stasis and consolidation by these insurgent fighters in the north, is there anything happening between now and then to take the fight to them or to try to degrade what the — what gains they’ve made so far?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I want to challenge a little bit the presumption of the question, because the question sort of presumes that these teams are going into to change the calculus on the ground. They are going to do those three things I talked about. They are assessment teams. The president has also made it clear that airstrikes are not off the table, and if — if he decides that that is required, then we remain postured in the region to do that.
But there’s been no such decision. And the focus of our military effort inside Iraq is twofold, the assessment teams and the continued ISR coverage that we provide for the Iraqi security forces and now will help provide for our assessment teams. It’ll help inform their efforts, as well. That’s — those two tracks are the tracks we’re on.
Does that answer your question? Okay.
Yeah, in the back?
Q: On the immunity — legal protections deal that was announced yesterday, I think you indicated that what you have now in the diplomatic note is just going to cover these 300 that the president talked about last week. Is there any further discussion about either seeking some approval from the Iraqi parliament or providing further protections for either these 300 or additional troops? Was there any further talk about these legal protections? Or is this done for now?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We believe that the protections that we secured through this exchange of notes is adequate to provide the protections we need for our troops for this short-term limited-duration mission. So in essence, we’re satisfied with the arrangement and we believe the arrangement provides, again, the necessary protections that our troops will need for this mission.
Q: Follow on that, please? On that subject, while we’re on it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Back in 2011, President Obama insisted strongly that whatever troops remained in Iraq after the withdrawal would have a blanket immunity. And your statement yesterday avoided using the word immunity. Am I reading too much into it? Or did they — did the troops — these up to 300 troops, are they getting the full blanket immunity that was sought in 2011 by the Obama administration? Or is it something short of that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’re getting — as I said yesterday, they’re getting the same level of assurances and protections that diplomatic personnel in Iraq currently enjoy. So the same level of what we would consider privileges and immunities are offered to these additional troops as were offered and as are offered to the diplomatic community in Baghdad. It’s the same.
Q: But just a quick follow-up. Diplomatic personnel don’t usually do the sorts of things that sometimes get viewed in a bad light, accused of being potential war crimes, those sorts of things? I mean, they do — they don’t usually get down and dirty with people as occasionally happens with armed troops. Is there a reason you’re not using the word “immunity”?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I just did in my answer. They’re getting the same privileges and immunity…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I said — the same privileges and immunities that are offered to the diplomatic core there in Baghdad. And then, you know, look, this mission is not about getting down and dirty, to use your phrase. These are assessors and eventually they will be advisers, and they will assess and advise at a higher headquarters level down to about the brigade level, so — so, again, back to Andrew’s question, we are comfortable that the protections that they — that we have secured for them are going to be adequate to the limited and short-term duration of this mission.
Q: Can I follow up on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: When you say short-term limited duration of this mission, what is this mission?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Initially to provide assessments and then eventually to advise and assist.
Q: Okay. Now, Secretary Kerry said today in Iraq that the U.S. effort would be…
Q: Sustained and intense.
Q: … sustained and intense. Is there a disconnect between DOD and State? Or are you talking about two different missions?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I mean, I won’t speak for Secretary Kerry. My impression of his remarks were talking about the sense of urgency and the level of effort, not necessarily the duration of time. This is a limited, short-term duration mission. I’ve — we’ve been saying that since the beginning. That has not changed.
No, I don’t have a fixed date for you as a deadline or an end date, but it’s very clear. The commander-in-chief couldn’t have been more clear that this will be a limited, short-term mission.
Q: So what elements, then, would bring the mission to an end? What’s the end goal here? What does the DOD see as a time when this mission will end?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can’t give you — I can’t give you a date certain. And I — and I don’t — I understand, Mik. I don’t have a list of criteria here for you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: But — but we’ve been ordered very clearly to go in and assess the situation on the ground and then eventually to move to an advisory role to help Iraqi security forces deal with this threat internal to their country. And then and then we’ll — we’ll go from there, but it’s not meant to be a long-term permanent mission of any kind, which is why — back to the question about protections — we’re comfortable with the arrangement that we — that we have, because you don’t need a status-of-forces agreement unless you’re going to be permanently based somewhere. And there’s no intention to stay in Iraq in this capacity for a long period of time.
Q: Three just quick clarifying questions. One is, is the flow that you announced today coincidental to the diplomatic note that was announced — discussed yesterday?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Coincidental?
Q: Well, in other words, did you — or did you guys wait until the diplomatic note agreement was hammered out?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely we did. Yeah, sure.
Q: So — but then what about the other people who were part of the 300 who are already…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, they were already there. And as part of the Office of Security Cooperation has for the last — well, since 2011 — worked out of, three years worked under the auspices of the embassy, they already had what we would — what we would — what they call chief of mission protections.
Q: Okay, and two quickly — the ISR flights are manned and unmanned?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’re a mix of manned and unmanned, yes.
Q: And are you still talking about assessments at the brigade level and above for the 300?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, but predominantly — so these two — these two — these first two teams that I talked about today, they are definitely at a higher headquarters level. They will be working at a higher headquarters level in Baghdad, not quite down to the brigade level.
The follow-on four teams that I talked about coming in over the next several days, they could go — they could start to do some assessment down at the brigade level. We just haven’t made those final decisions yet.
Q: Probably not south of the brigade level at any point.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, right now, higher headquarters and brigade level is about as far as it’s going to go. Barb?
Q: (OFF-MIC) you said the first teams are going to — it’ll be about two or three weeks before they deliver their initial assessment.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s right.
Q: Right, Okay. Just to make sure I understand, so that’s the firsts couple of teams. Does the assessment period potentially go beyond that? In other words, do you guys have the sense of when you might get to the additional phase of advise and assist and when you might actually sort of get eyes on in — more towards northern Iraq outside of Baghdad?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think it’s going to be quite — my sense is it’s not going to be such a clean sharp handoff. It’s possible that even before the first two to three weeks of assessments are all complete that we could start doing some advising. And I think it’ll be more of a natural evolution there, rather than a clean break, Barb. But again, you know, I don’t want to — there’s no need to get into — into too much specificity here. I think we’ll start to get these assessments in and, again, between two to three weeks, and then we’ll take it from there.
Q: If I could just follow up on a couple other quick points, in terms of ISIS itself right now, do you have any sense of — of where they’re making their latest moves? Are they trying to cross into Jordan, do you believe, which could change things? Do you see them trying to get actually closer to Baghdad? Do you have a sense of where they are right now, what they’re trying to accomplish? Are they trying to get across these borders?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: One of the things that we’re flowing these teams in to do is to — is to help us be able to answer some of those questions, Barb. I don’t think we have perfect knowledge right now of the situation on the ground, which is why we’re starting with a couple of assessment teams.
But clearly, you know, we certainly have enough visibility to see that they — they continue to—to press into central and southern Iraq. They’re still fighting over this oil refinery, which I think remains contested territory right now. And they’re still a legitimate threat to Baghdad.
So, I mean, we’re — if you — you know, if you look at the map of Iraq, I mean, sort of the central swathe going from, you know, north of Samarra, around Tikrit, all the way up to Mosul, that’s — you know, that’s ISIL-controlled territory by and large. And we’re seeing them try to solidify those gains and to continue to threaten Baghdad.
That’s kind of the general laydown. We also have — and we’ve said it many times — I mean, there’s a porous border between Iraq and Syria, which we remain concerned about. They flow back and forth across that border to sustain themselves. There’s no question about that.
But, again, in more detail than that, it’s just difficult to go — to go, because we just don’t have perfect visibility. That’s the whole reason we’re putting these teams on the ground.
Somebody else. Jim?
Q: John, why did they cap the number of advise, assist mission at 300 before they’ve made their assessment? In other words, what if the assessment comes in as needing a more robust advise and assist mission?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There was a very healthy interagency discussion about this assessment, advise and assist mission. And I think it was uniformly agreed that that was a good number to start with. And, of course, the president obviously made the ultimately decision.
And, again, I’d remind you, he said up to 300, it doesn’t necessarily need to go that high. We’re just going to have to, you know, get on the ground and see what it is.
But this is — you know, it’s important to remember, it’s assess, advise and assist. And you can do that in very small numbers at head — at higher headquarters, back to Gordon’s point. So, you know, we’re not talking about, you know, putting people out on, you know, foot patrols at the platoon level, so I think it’s a reasonable number that — that was discussed about it at the national security team and it was agreed upon that that’s a — that’s a reasonable, feasible number to start with, and, again, we’ve just got to let these guys get to work. They just started. They’ll come back and they’ll tell us what they think.
Q: Two questions. One, Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey have not been in this briefing room together since February. The secretary hasn’t been here since March. Given that the U.S. is sending 300 advisers to Iraq, given the news events, when can we expect to see him here to brief reporters?
And my second question is on Egypt. I’m curious, in light of the verdicts yesterday for the three Al Jazeera journalists and the thousands that have been charged and convicted on — in spurious cases, I’m curious if there’s any reassessment happening here about giving those additional 10 Apaches, if there’s any push from this building, given the strong military-to-military relationship, to try to push for a more just system in Egypt?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’re always assessing our relationship, our military relationship with Egypt. There’s no question about that. Clearly, we — we’re not happy about what we’ve seen in terms of the convictions of these three journalists in particular. But it’s something we’re constantly looking at. I don’t have any announcements for you one way or the other on this.
And I’d remind you that it’s this — our colleagues at State that really run the foreign military sales program. It is — it is an important — it’s a complicated relationship but it’s an important relationship, our military relationship with Egypt, and one that we want to continue to work at and to improve.
On your other question, I don’t think you’ll find a secretary of defense or, frankly, a joint chiefs chairman more committed to—to dialougue and discussion and — and talking to reporters and to the American people about what we’re doing. And we’ll continue to get them out before you as best we can.
I take the point that they haven’t maybe been at the podium as frequently as you might like, but it’s not like they haven’t been out there visibly in the public domain talking about some very important issues. There’s been a lot of travel for both. There’s been a lot of testimony since February on the budget for both. And there’s been an awful lot of activity going on here inside the Defense Department.
So while you may not have seen them at the podium, I can assure you, you will. You will continue to do that. And I take — I take the point. But let’s not forget the fact that they have been both out there on a lot of issues.
Q: (OFF-MIC) on the — on the Egypt issue, can you tell me when the last time Secretary Hagel spoke to his counterpart in Egypt, (inaudible), and has it come up at all, these cases? Has he spoken to him since these cases (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He’s not spoken to his counterpart since the ruling here on these three journalists. We can get you the date on the last phone conversation. We read them all out, so I’m sure we can get that to you.
Q: And then on just appearances, I know that they have been doing a lot of testimony and public appearances, but so have previous secretaries of state and chairmans, and they’ve usually briefed here about once a month.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I take the point, Nancy. Thank you — thank you for that.
Q: Admiral, you just made reference to the legitimate threat to Baghdad, but you’ve also used words like eventually we’ll assist and advise the Iraqi forces. Is it a misperception to think that this is happening rather leisurely?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, look, I — I think, again, as I said earlier, everybody shares a sense of urgency here about what is going on inside Iraq. That is why we have intensified ISR over the last couple of weeks and maintain a pretty high level, I might add. That is why we ordered an aircraft carrier into the Arabian Gulf, an amphibious ship, and assorted smaller warships with them. That is why the president has ordered these up to 300 folks to go into Iraq and why, quite frankly, you know, we work so hard to get the protections and now, you know, we’ve got these 130 folks at the job in Baghdad today
There’s been a lot of movement and a lot of activity on this. But ultimately — and we’ve all said this, and I know I’ve said this — this — this is an issue that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces have got to solve. When we left in 2011, we left them with an incredible opportunity, and we left them at a rate of competence and capability that was deemed appropriate to the threat at the time.
Now, the threat has changed over time, no question about that. ISIL has strengthened and grown. There’s no question about that.
But it’s not exactly clear — and I think it’s safe to say that the Iraqi government has not taken full advantage of those opportunities with an inclusive political process — and the administration and the resourcing of their security forces at the appropriate level.
So we are doing a lot. We’ll continue to do a lot. But ultimately, the Iraqis have got to do the bulk of the work.
Q: Is your pacing designed to give them room to compromise and to make deals so you don’t rush to their rescue too quickly?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’re not — even — even — even absent the political question — and I’ll get to that — I mean, this isn’t about rushing to the rescue, Okay? This is — it’s a measured, deliberate approach to help us and them get better eyes on the situation and what they’re facing.
But we’re not — and I think Secretary Kerry made this clear — I mean, this isn’t about making assistance and advice hinge purely and solely on political gains. That said, what we want is to support an inclusive political environment there, a government that is inclusive, and multi-confessional, and we would like to believe that as we assist and advise, we are assisting that kind of government.
So it’s clear they’ve got to do more on the political front. And, again, you know, back in 2011, we said that the best chance for a decrease in violence in Iraq is a political process, a democratic process that is inclusive and multi-sectarian.
Q: Thanks, Admiral. So you say you’ve intensified ISR. Have you identified any potential military targets? And do you see ISIL behaving like a military, like an army? Or do you see them more as a terror group?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It is a — ISIL is a — it is an extremist group, an extremist network, that they are — that said, they are well-resourced. They’re better organized than most of — you know, most other terrorist networks. And they are aided by additional foreign fighters and even just some Sunni sympathizers that aren’t necessarily self-identified members of ISIL.
So — and they are also — they have — they have caliphate ambitions. And that is why, unlike some terrorist groups that simply just work to kill and maim, they are killing and maiming, but they’re also grabbing ground. And so — so they have some behavior of an organized force. There’s no question about that.
I’m sorry. Your other question was…
Q: Well, so — so they’re behaving like an organized force. Therefore, are there legitimate military targets you could hit, potentially? Have you discovered (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a targeting discussion at this point. Our job right now is to assess the situation and then to eventually advise.
Q: My point is the assessing has been — is really going to happen with the eyes from the sky, which you’ve (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: And these groups of special operators that are now on the ground there.
Q: Any ISR assets from outside of CENTCOM been brought in for these…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge. I mean, they’re being — they’re being pulled from inside Central Command.
Q: So it taking away from Afghanistan, then?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’d let CENTCOM talk to the specifics about where they’re getting their resources from. I don’t — I don’t have that level of detail, Marcus, but what I would tell you is that the mission in Afghanistan is not suffering as a result of what we’re trying to do in Iraq. The mission in Afghanistan, that is still a very active military mission and we continue to support it.
Q: (OFF-MIC) separate question. An F-35 had a fire in it yesterday down at Eglin. Is there any update on the cause of that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think so. I actually have something on that, but I don’t know if we have a whole lot of detail on it. It aborted takeoff due to a fire in the aft end of the aircraft. Pilot got out safely. No injuries, and the cause is still under investigation. I don’t have any more detail than that.
I’ve got time for just a couple more.
Q: … grounded or just (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Just the A’s, the Air Force variants at Eglin, not the whole force while they investigate this particular fire.
Q: (OFF-MIC) go back to the question on Egypt. Yourself and other officials have been stressing the importance of the security relationship with the Egyptian authorities. Why shouldn’t President Sisi and his government think that American security assistance is guaranteed and, therefore, they can carry on with their policy of cracking down on activist, on journalists like we’ve seen yesterday? And why shouldn’t people assume that the administration is actually supporting the Egyptian authorities and their policy?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Why shouldn’t Al-Sisi consider that — that our support is unilateral and unchanging? Is that the question?
Q: Because — because you’re not — we don’t see any change in behavior. The sentencing happened like a day after Secretary Kerry left Egypt. You’re going to carry on with providing Egyptian military with aid. And actually it seems like people might think that the administration is supporting this kind of policy.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we’ve all made clear our concerns about recent decisions in Egypt and particularly the concerns over — over these three journalists. We’ve made that very clear and very publicly so.
And that’s why we’re continuing to review the scope of our assistance, but your question is better answered by Al-Sisi himself. We’ve been very clear about our concerns. And we’ve been very clear about the need to try to get the relationship on a more stable footing than it has been, but part and parcel of that is the strength of the decision-making there inside Egypt. And we continue to review the program.
Q: (OFF-MIC) the security component is one of the most important components in this relationship. And we know that the Egyptian authors depend — depends on it. And while you’re stressing your position, it seems this position hasn’t been making any changes in Egypt and haven’t been pushing the Egyptians to change their behavior. Shouldn’t the authorities in the U.S., the administration reconsider its position on that? I mean, it’s been how many months now since you’ve been saying the same things to the Egyptian authorities and actually we haven’t seen change? They’re actually making — taking more steps to crack down on activists and journalists.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think, as I said, we’ve been very clear about our expectations. We’ve been very clear about our concerns. This is — it’s an important relationship, however flawed and complicated it is, and we have to keep working at it.
I’ve got time for just one or two more. John?
Q: Two quick ones. Will General Dunford remain in Afghanistan until General Campbell is confirmed by the Senate? And do you have any update about the individual who killed himself at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t on the second one, but we can get that for you. We can try to help you out with that one. I don’t have any more information.
And then — I mean, General Dunford continues to serve as the commander of our forces in Afghanistan and ISAF and will remain so until, you know, he’s properly relieved of those duties. There’s a Senate confirmation process on all these moves that has to be respected and worked through and we’re not going to rush through it.
Q: (OFF-MIC) on this 92-year-old’s suicide?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m sorry?
Q: And who would we go to about the Arlington incident (OFF-MIC) information (OFF-MIC) pounding on your door every 30 minutes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I enjoy you pounding on my door every 30 minutes, Mik. No, it’ll be — it’ll be our press desk officers will help you out with that. I just don’t have that kind of detail right now.
I’ll take — David?
Q: You said two special operations teams are now set up. Did you mean to say special operations as opposed to special forces? Because we’ve been referring to them pretty regularly as special forces, because they’re the ones that do the training (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There will be special forces involved in this effort. Again, we don’t talk about the specifics of those units. Certainly, there will be special forces, troops, but there will also be special operations and part of — and forces involved in some of these assessments, as well. And then as I said earlier, the team that is going in to help stand up the joint operations center will be a mix of conventional and special operations.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Last one.
Q: Thank you very much. One, how much are you worried about the situation in Pakistan? Because unless you have a stable Pakistan, you cannot have a stable Afghanistan or peace in Afghanistan because Al Qaida and Taliban have again threatened Pakistani innocent people in the future more and more attacks unless until something is done. What — do you think Pakistan (OFF-MIC) help from the U.S. — I mean (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Pakistan has asked for help from the U.S.? I’m not aware of any specific requests for assistance. Are you talking about the operations that they’re conducting now against extremists in North Waziristan? I mean, those operations continue. I’ll let the Pakistanis speak for that.
We’ve been very clear for many years now that we share common threats with the Pakistanis, that terrorism there is a regional issue, it’s not — it’s not just an Afghan issue or a Pakistan issue. It’s the whole region, and we remain committed to having as cooperative and as constructive a relationship with Pakistan as possible.
Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.